WEDNESDAY, 24 JULY 2019
SUBJECTS: Liberals’ latest attack on pensions; Liberals’ push to ditch Superannuation Guarantee increase; Labor’s policies; Newstart; retirement incomes review; Banking Royal Commission
LINDA BURNEY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES: We are seeing the suggestion from this Government – this cruel Government, when it comes to pensioners – a very drastic change. Craig Kelly has suggested that people can buy the family home from their superannuation and that it be included in the pensioner assets test. This is a cruel and drastic change that’s being suggested by this Government in relation to the assets test. It is putting pensioners in the position of either owning a home or going on the pension. It’s completely unacceptable. And when you look at the DNA of this Government when it comes to pensioners, it didn’t take long did it, from the deeming rates decision to this? You look at the very fact that they have constantly tried to move the pension age to the age of 70. They have constantly tried to do away with the energy supplement. And the history is there to be seen. Jim will talk about the fact that there were 370,000 pensioners that were worse off when the Government did a deal with the Greens in relation to the pension. I am saying very clearly that we were shut down this morning, so pensioners’ concerns were not heard in the Parliament. The discussion did not take place in the Parliament about what is an absolute drastic change. Scott Morrison needs to stand up today and before question time be very clear about what the position is in terms of the home and the assets test. We are calling on him to make sure that pensioners who are careful people; who have given their entire lives of working for this country and deserve respect and dignity and surety in their old age. We are calling on the Prime Minister to provide that. I’ll ask Jim to make some comments.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much Linda. When the Government gagged the motion that Linda and I just moved in the House of Representatives they didn't take up the opportunity we were providing for them to rule out the changes that Craig Kelly is proposing to put the family home into the pension asset test. The Government has failed and refused to rule out this change that Craig Kelly is proposing.
The Liberals wandered around the country during the election campaign pretending to care about retirees at the same time as they were planning to attack superannuation and the pension. The Liberals are gearing up to rob almost 13 million Australian workers of the Superannuation Guarantee increase that they need and deserve and were promised. And now we know on top of that they're also gearing up to put the family home in the pension assets test.
This will push pensioners out of their home, off the pension, or both, and it's not good enough.
We will fiercely resist this change that the Government is contemplating. We call on the Government to rule out changes to legislate the Superannuation Guarantee increase, to rule out changes to the family home in the pension asset test, and to stop pretending that they care about the retirees of this country.
We now know what Josh Frydenberg’s retirement incomes review is all about. The retirement incomes review is all about justifying more cuts to super and more cuts to the pension.
This Government has form on both. This is the Government which froze the Superannuation Guarantee, who has tried at every turn to limit retirement incomes for Australian workers; a Government which has cut the pension repeatedly; tried to cut the energy supplement; done deals with the Greens to push people off the pension or to make hundreds of thousands of Australians substantially worse.
This Government has form. It's time for them to rule out putting the family home in the pension assets test, to rule out messing with the legislated Superannuation Guarantee increase and to stop pretending they care about retirees when all along they've planned this ambush on their retirement income.
JOURNALIST: Craig Kelly is known for making off the cuff remarks. Is it really fair to say [INAUDIBLE]?
CHALMERS: I'm pleased you asked that. I invite you to consider what happened with energy policy, and we went through the same dance with energy policy. Everybody said well Craig Kelly is just a backbencher and at the end of the day Craig Kelly's energy policy became Josh Frydenberg's energy policy. So there has been a recent precedent which shows that in the Liberal Party the tail wags the Treasurer and we've seen that repeatedly. Josh Frydenberg will always put his internal political ambitions and interests ahead of the interests of Australian retirees and pensioners and superannuants and workers. We saw with energy policy one of the reasons that we've had six failed years of energy policy is because the Liberal Party have had the tail wagging the dog. Characters like Craig Kelly. We've seen this movie before, and I fear that we're about to see it again.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it was a mistake to go to the electorate proposing that franking credits crack down without grandfathering. In other words, telling people you're going to immediately take that income away without giving them a chance really to reorganise that?
CHALMERS: Well Greg, I think as I've said to you many times and I've said to other friends here at this press conference, all of the policies that we took to the last election are up for review. Obviously we listen to the message that was sent to us by the electorate. We will take our time. We're not in a rush to come to a final view on the policies that we'll take to the next election when it's only been eight or nine weeks since the last election.
JOURNALIST: Does it make it hard to criticise the Government on things like superannuation, things that aren't their policy, when you guys still have policies that are tax increases for superannuation and these franking credits.
CHALMERS: I invite you to consider it another way. This is a government that went all around Australia pretending to care about retirees with all their dishonesty around the retiree tax and all of that kind of stuff. Now we know that the Liberals are proposing changes which would be massively detrimental to pensioners. We also know that there's a substantial push in the Liberal Party to cut the Superannuation Guarantee which would mean for example, for an average worker who's 30 years old right now on $80,000 a year, they'd be about $90,000 worse off at retirement.
I've given Scott Morrison multiple opportunities to rule out messing with the Superannuation Guarantee and he wouldn't do it. The Insiders program gave Josh Frydenberg five opportunities to rule that out. They won't rule out messing with the Superannuation Guarantee. They haven't ruled out messing with the family home in the pension asset test. We call on them to give workers and retirees and pensioners some certainty and come clean on what their plans are for their retirement incomes.
JOURNALIST: The PC recommended six months ago a retirement income review. Do you support that recommendation? Would you make a submission to that inquiry? And should it get underway soon?
CHALMERS: We will be an active participant in a debate about retirement incomes. Whether or not we make a submission is to be determined. I think when that proposal was first made by the PC with the best of intentions that was one thing. But now I fear that the Liberal Party will use that suggestion as an excuse to justify the cuts that they want to make to superannuation.
BURNEY: The other thing about that inquiry is that it’s been impossible for us to find out what the terms of reference are, what the inquiry is actually going to do. They have been completely opaque about that inquiry. And if they want participation, they should be clear about what the inquiry is going to examine. And as Jim said, it is now beginning to appear that it could be a stalking horse for a whole lot of bad things.
JOURNALIST: With Newstart, why won’t Labor put a figure on how much that should be changed by?
BURNEY: The Labor Party has been very clear in terms of Newstart: we are calling on the Government to review with a view to increasing Newstart. We did not win the election. We went to the election with a very clear and long term commitment to review Newstart. The Government obviously won the election and it is now firmly in their court to determine a rate with a view to increase. That is what the Government’s responsibility is.
CHALMERS: We've also seen stories today about the Minister interfering with the report of the Committee. What we would say about that is it seems almost everybody in this country except for Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg know that Newstart is inadequate. The reason why we're calling on the Government to review and increase Newstart is because it's necessary to alleviate poverty, to get people in a position to find a job, but also good for the economy because the economy is struggling for consumption.
So, there's a whole range of reasons why we're calling on the Government to act in this fashion. It's for the Government to explain why they interfered with that report. It appears that there are more and more Liberal and National backbenchers who have Labor's view about Newstart. It's time for Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison to listen to their backbench, to Labor, to the BCA, to John Howard, to John Hewson, to KPMG, to the Reserve Bank - the list goes on and on - and take action.
JOURNALIST: If there was interference by the Minister and that recommendation was changed why didn't your members issue a minority report?
CHALMERS: You have to ask our members. I don't involve myself in the goings-on of that committee. But I think what is clear from the reports that have come out today is that the report was going to recommend working towards an increase to Newstart. The Government intervened at the last minute. They seem to be the only ones who don't recognise the need for consideration of a change here.
BURNEY: Not only the Government, but the then-Minister for Social Services intervened and that is a very, very dangerous precedent.
JOURNALIST: With Labor's policy under review as you said, you are going to take time to consider them. What sort of time frame are we talking about? Can we expect to know what policies Labor has or what policy it has dropped since the election before the end of the year?
CHALMERS: I'm not prepared to put a timeframe on it. I think it's entirely reasonable, as I said before, when we're eight or nine weeks from the last election to take all the time that we need to review and revise the policies that we took to the last election, but also to come up with new policies and a new agenda for the 2022 election.
BURNEY: Which is a completely responsible way forward and we’re not going to be rushed with the review. We’re not going to be rushed examining what policies are there, what new policies we need to think about. It is three years to the next election and we will do this slowly.
CHALMERS: I'll just take one more question from Kat and then we're good.
JOURNALIST: In these reports about the interference in the committee report, how confident are you that your new push for the economics committee inquiry into Newstart –
BURNEY: Well, you would know that we have recommended an inquiry by the Senate economics committee. We’re working through what the terms of reference for that committee should be. And I have every confidence that that committee will explore this issue very thoroughly.
CHALMERS: I meant to go back to Phil before.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Banking Royal Commission, the Government is saying they may or may not be done by the end of this year. What is an acceptable timeframe to have the 40 reccos that [INAUDIBLE] legislated by?
CHALMERS: The Government pretended they cared about the recommendations of the Banking Royal Commission to get them through an election. Since the election we haven't heard a peep from them on what they intend to do with those recommendations. It's very clear from what's going on in the Parliament this week that the Government is putting forward all kinds of bills to satisfy a political strategy and to distract from the fact that they have made absolutely no progress on implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission into banks. This is a Government which will always try and create a political distraction from their economic failures. The fact that growth hasn't been this slow in the economy for 10 years and wages are stagnant, consumption is weak, retail is weak, confidence is down and because they have that strategy to distract all of you and try and distract all of us from the main game they think they can get away with overseeing a weak economy and doing nothing on the Banking Royal Commission.
I think it's incredibly important that we and the Australian people hold the Government's feet to the fire when it comes to the Banking Royal Commission. It's not good enough for them to pretend they care in the lead up to the election and then to wash their hands of it afterwards. We need to see substantial progress. We need to see legislation in this building to make sure that the recommendations of the Banking Royal Commission can be implemented as soon as possible. Thanks very much.